The Boss may have started an avalanche

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Bruce Springsteen made a lot of noise in North Carolina last week by not making any noise at all.

Bruce called off a concert in the Tar Heel State over its proposed “bathroom law,” which dictates which restrooms transgender people can use, as well as legislation that cuts off civil rights protections to gay and transgender people.

He could have played the show and made a statement about the law on stage, or donated ticket sales from the concert to LBGT charities, neither of which would have been heard or felt much beyond Springsteen’s circle. Instead he pulled out of the performance altogether, which was the loudest thing he could have done, and wound up making international headlines and potentially affecting change.

That’s a part of rock ‘n’ roll, making your voice heard and standing behind your words. In a statement, Springsteen said, “some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them.”

And with that, Bruce launched a wave of protests that have already spread beyond North Carolina and could go much further.

Following the Bruce announcement, Ringo Starr bailed on his planned North Carolina show, and Bryan Adams nixed a gig in Mississippi over the state’s discrimination of LBGT people. Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace, who is transgender, said this week the band will perform its planned concert in North Carolina next month as a means of protesting the bathroom law. Jimmy Buffett called the law “stupid” and didn’t cancel anything, but said future concerts in North Carolina depend on whether or not the law is repealed.

The fact that Jimmy Buffett is being asked to weigh in on anything other than his preference of margarita mix shows that Springsteen’s protest has legs. And in an election year that is becoming increasingly contentious, Bruce kicked off what has become an unavoidably political year for musicians and artists.

That is a change from the way things have been in recent years, when pop music has been a relatively happy-go-lucky place. The financial realities of the record industry have made it so artists don’t want to leave money on the table, and speaking up could lead to alienating fans, which can hurt not only a band’s bottom line but its career going forward. Look what happened to the Dixie Chicks after they slammed George W. Bush.

There have been plenty of major social issues and opportunities for artists to affect change in recent years. The Black Lives Matter movement made waves in hip-hop, but no major songs or protests came from it. The Flint water crisis continues to affect the lives of those in the city, but the artist community’s impact was limited to water drives and benefit concerts to help those in need.

Springsteen played The Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday, but what if he had canceled the show over the lack of disciplinary action taken against Gov. Rick Snyder over his involvement in the Flint debacle? Where does an artist draw the line, and what is the role of artists in politics?

It’s a tricky balance, and when an artist’s politics overshadow their art the impact of their message can be lost. But it is important for artists to stand up for what they believe.

Art is self-expression, and if an artist doesn’t stand for anything, then what’s the point? It’s strictly commercial, and they might as well be selling hammers.

With the rise of Donald Trump and the dissension he is causing, a storm is brewing, and what we’ve seen this week could be just the beginning.

Bruce Springsteen stood up for what he believes, and others are following his lead. That is why he is still the Boss.

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